Remembering Ingrid Muan (Brandeis International Fellow '03-'04)

The staff of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life join people from around the world in mourning the sudden death of Dr. Ingrid Muan, Brandeis International Fellow in the program Recasting Reconciliation through Culture and the Arts. Ingrid was an artist, scholar and cultural worker who co-founded Reyum, the institute of art and culture in Phnom Penh. She dedicated her generous intelligence and creativity to the preservation and development of Khmer culture -- through exhibitions of traditional and contemporary arts, through the publication of books and articles, through her support of the few surviving older Khmer craftspeople, and through her mentorship of a new generation of Cambodian artists and researchers. She was admired and loved by her colleagues, family, students and friends for her perseverance, her humor, her elegance, her generosity and her wisdom.

In the summer of 2004, Ingrid served as a mentor for two Ethics and Coexistence Student Fellows, Daniel Ludevig, '06 and Josh Russell, '06. Dan included his impressions of Ingrid in a letter of recommendation he wrote for her last fall. (Dan's letter below)

In the weeks preceding her death in January, Ingrid was drafting a working paper for the Recasting Reconciliation fellowship program entitled 'The Goodness of Lives.' The paper is a reflection on the challenges of creating a culture of respect and reciprocity among the students and faculty at Reyum's art school. The partial draft she submitted included her musings on a project in which the young art school students were invited to interpret ten tales central to the Khmer Buddhist tradition, stories of the last lives of the Buddha before he reached enlightenment. Each of the tales, she wrote, "are said to illustrate a virtue or quality thought to be essential for living a good life: generosity, honesty, equanimity, tolerance, compassion, self-determination, diligence." Ingrid's life embodied all of these virtues in good measure. We are grateful for the opportunity we had to know and to work with a woman of such enormous talent and integrity, and will miss her presence in the years to come.

Back in October, Ingrid asked me to write her a recommendation for her application to Deep Springs College for the upcoming year. I recalled having written this recommendation after attending the gathering/memorial for Ingrid held today in NYC. The following is the recommendation which I submitted for Ingrid.

Recommendation for Ingrid Muan:

One need not look further than Ingrid Muan when hiring a professor for a school oriented towards preparing its students for a life of service. In an academic world where learning from others ranks as equally important to learning by oneself, Ingrid’s real-world experiences make her a source of endless information and knowledge. She would undoubtedly serve as a fantastic addition to any college committed to offering its students not only the brightest and most insightful professors, but also professors who encourage others to judge the world through a lens of careful scrutiny, analysis, discussion and understanding.

I worked with Ingrid this past summer at the Gallery/Research Facility/Art School which she founded in Cambodia, named Reyum. Having received this opportunity from an Ethics Fellowship provided by my own university, I had little pre-existing familiarity with the organization or country in which I was to work for two months, and even less knowledge about its director, Ingrid Muan. In fact, the only impressions I had of this Director and the country to which I was going revolved around a reply she had made to my e-mail inquiry about appropriate clothing for Cambodia. In her short answer she bluntly stated—as she always does—that I should bring a button-down shirt and a tie “to wear at both weddings and funerals.” Indeed, although my Fellowship program identified Ingrid as my site supervisor, within the first few days of my stay in Cambodia, she far surpassed her supervisor duties and became my mentor and teacher about Cambodia, politics and life experiences in general.

In post-Cambodia reflections, I have come to realize that had I not met Ingrid during my time in South-East Asia, my impression and understanding of the Cambodian people and their way of life would never exist as they do in their current form. Nearly every two or three weeks, Ingrid would take me to her small, simple river house on the Mekong River. Despite the endless amount of work and reading that I knew she had to do, I always looked forward to these weekend trips, sure of the fact that they would provide me the opportunity to process, debate, and ultimately reach some conclusion about the recent events and experiences I had during the week or two prior. Ingrid’s cynicism and regular sarcasm added a tone to every conversation that was simply delightful, and would keep my brain yearning for more of her stories, reflections, advice or thoughts, which always proved to be limitless. Whether sitting on her porch till late at night, or taking 6:00 am walks on a nearby island with her three dogs, my conversations with Ingrid provided the type of stimulation and eye-opening awareness that one rarely finds even in a university setting. Yet, regardless of the strength of her convictions on any topic, she always left room for my own exploration, usually by saying with a grin something to the effect of, “Dan, yes I do think that many Cambodians here are corrupt, manipulative, and cannot be trusted, but why don’t you go find that out for yourself.” When it came to asking, questioning and wondering more about this foreign world I found myself thrown into, Ingrid always provided an open ear and an opinion full of logic and reason. However, she never spoke to me in a condescending manner; instead, there existed a simple, nonverbal agreement: I speak on behalf of my experiences, she speaks on behalf of hers, and together we try to understand each other’s.

Ingrid Muan would be more than just an asset to a college focused on training its students to become societal practitioners. Through her unbelievable experiences and irreplaceable personality and character, she is the kind of professor every student dreams of having. Her verbal eloquence, witty humor, and brilliant intellect become clearly visible after just one meeting with her. Additionally however, the commitment and passion which Ingrid brings to her work and to her interactions and conversations with others, ultimately act as a force which will continue to inspire me for the rest of my lifetime.

Daniel Ludevig, ‘06
Brandeis University